How Can You Tell If Your Apartment Is Bad?

When you are searching for a new apartment complex to call home, the last thing you want to do is be unhappy with where you are staying for a year or longer.  From what I’ve seen, you only go around once in this world, so you may as well make the best of it while you’re here! 

There are many things that can tip off if your apartment is bad, such as a persistent smell or odor, rowdy neighbors, management that is absent or that doesn’t keep up the property.

While these things by themselves aren’t the end-all, typically these negative aspects of apartment complexes tend to come in groups, and that always starts from the top.  If the manager or landlord is willing to talk with you, be available for whatever you need, and solve the issues you need to be solved, those are the first good signs to you going into an apartment that will meet and satisfy your needs. 

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But what about those things that are wrong and just not negotiable?  Those things that can make or break a stay, not to mention a lease.  I am going to go through some of the BIGGEST warning signs you need to be aware of, whether you are looking for a new apartment, or you are trying to critique the place you are currently in, wondering if the things going on around you are normal. 

Bad Smell In Your Apartment

This is one of the biggest warning signs. If you go into an apartment for the first time, and it has a bad odor, run, don’t walk away from that complex.  

A bad smell means that something is growing in places that it shouldn’t be growing.  As humans, we all have built-in detectors for this kind of stuff called a “Nose”.   When it gets turned up, there is a reason for it.  It means that something is not right, and you shouldn’t be spending any more time than necessary breathing in whatever it is that is coming into your nose. 

Having a manager or landlord walk you through an apartment that has a smell to it is just unacceptable.  That means that that smell is LITERALLY as clean as you are going to find anything on that complex whatsoever.   That is the high bar right there.  Not getting ANY better during your stay, and you can count on that.  

Now, DON’T confuse the apartment smelling bad at the beginning of your stay with your apartment having a smell NOW.   Virtually every single instance of an apartment smelling once tenants have come into the unit is caused either by the tenants themselves or by one of their neighbors.  This is something you have to address right at the beginning of the rent period. 

If your apartment smells when you first walk in the door, you SHOULD tell the manager or landlord about it, and then politely decline to rent there and go find someplace else.  Because if that’s the best they can make the place smell, they aren’t going to be doing a decent job of much of anything there.  Leave, and find someplace that is up to snuff.  

What Constitutes Uninhabitable Living Conditions?

So, how bad is it?  Like really REALLY bad, or just undesirable?  There is a big difference and what it means for the tenant and landlord alike. 

If an apartment is uninhabitable, that means that things like the heat or A/C don’t work, there is no hot water or possibly running water, there are structural problems that could be a hazard, and there are pests of a different kind in the apartment. 

If ANY of these things happen to you while you are walking through your rental… LEAVE!!!!  

This is the death rattle of the apartment complex and the landlord’s business.  An apartment with even ONE of the things I listed above would be cause for the apartment to be declared uninhabitable.   

And in apartment-speak, uninhabitable literally means that in the U.S., you cannot be placed in an apartment in that condition.  Remember not all of the conditions, just ONE of those conditions could qualify the apartment for uninhabitability.  

(Now, if you are renting in Anchorage, and there is no A/C in your unit, that is probably acceptable because nobody is ever going to need A/C there.  All I’m saying is don’t give Anchorage landlords a hard time, be reasonable.)

Different states have different rules as to what makes up “Uninhabitable”.  But really, the list I just provided is a pretty good list.  You could add exposed wires, unworking switches, pipes leaking, mold……..anything like these things that provide a SERIOUS HUMAN HAZARD to someone living in it would be classified as “Uninhabitable”.  

Letting Anyone With A Pulse Rent?

This is also one of those things that you won’t be able to determine before you set foot on the property grounds.   This is why I have always stressed the importance of talking to your potential neighbors when you are doing a walkthrough.  They have the ability to give you information that your landlord won’t.

It all depends on what you are looking for with your apartment experience.  If you don’t really care about anything but a roof over your head, then you don’t need to be that discriminatory when looking for your apartment.   But if you want to have some control over what your living time is going to look like while you’re there, then reviewing how easy it was for you yourself to get accepted should tell you a bit about the policies and procedures of the owner. 

If they are letting literally anyone in without doing a background or credit check, that means that there is no standard at all for people they will admit to their complex.  

Regardless of whether you think this is great because you are admitted easily, it is NOT in your best interest.  Why?  Because if there are no hoops for you to jump through to get the apartment, no standards, then that means there are no standards for anyone else trying to rent there either. 

This is why background and credit checks are so important to the application process, especially if there is a fee that is accompanied with it.  Yes, you may find the fee just “one more thing” to get you on, but you actually WANT there to be a fee.  Someone that isn’t going to pass a background or credit check is not going to pay the fee just to be rejected.  So those hoops you have to jump through, and those little extra costs can actually improve your stay considerably. 

What Do You Do When You Hate Your Apartment?

If you are that miserable in your apartment… then move!  

I know that sounds easy for me to say, sitting out here in EtherWorld, but the truth of the matter is, only you can change your current situation.  

Some of the things that I mentioned above are going to be good indicators if an apartment is bad BEFORE you move in.  These things should be sticking out in your mind from here on out as to what to look for in an apartment when you are doing the walkthrough.  

But if you are experiencing some of these things NOW with your apartment, then you should do something about it.   Are your neighbors being unruly or out of control?   Do you feel unsafe at your apartment complex?  Is your manager or landlord never there and tough to get ahold of to take care of issues that may arise?   

If this describes your current living arrangement, there is nobody stopping you from moving.  Will you have to pay the remainder of your lease out?  Maybe, maybe not.  As a landlord myself, I am sympathetic to people who come to my complex and it ends up not being a fit for them and they come to me honestly and want to leave.   

In fact, I have written an entire article about how to get out of your lease early if you HAVE to.  And this is written by a landlord himself, who deals with these types of situations on a regular basis.  You CAN get out of your lease without penalty if you play your cards right.  

Now, that doesn’t mean you spin a story and lie to your landlord about the reasons you want to quit your lease early.  It just means you go and be honest with them about the issues you are having with the apartment, why things aren’t being remedied, and your desire to find someplace else to live. 

It may not be the most comfortable situation in the world, but it is SURELY a lot better than continuing to live in the same situation that is making you so miserable AND pay a few thousand dollars for the privilege.   

Be honest, be nice, and you will be surprised at the level of empathy you can be shown.  

If your apartment constantly smells bad, the neighbors are out of control, and the landlord is incognito most of the time, you probably have a pretty good idea at that point that the situation is not going to get any better and it’s probably time for a move. 

Noticing these things before you ever sign a lease agreement is even better.  Remember those things I mentioned above in the article and you can better avoid getting into a bad apartment, to begin with.

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John Boettcher

Co-Founder of Apartment School and a previous renter turned owner of many multi-family properties across the United States, with many years of experience in all aspects of the apartment, real estate, and investing world.

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